by Bharthi S.
Not all stories are destined to be epics. And not all of us are looking to be blown away by every show or film that we watch. A little happy nugget often brings us some much-needed smiles and a sense of well-being – a feeling that life is good and happy endings are to be expected. And, admit it, most romcoms work because they peddle some cliché that speaks to our romantic hearts. We might affectionately poke fun at these tropes, but we do love them. They are familiar and comforting in their assurance of a ‘happy ever after’ once the leads get over some hurdles and squabbles, having given us plenty of things to laugh and sigh over in the meantime.
Ateşböceği is one such nugget that rests on a classic dizi cliché – a romcom about a rich, sophisticated man and a feisty girl from the ‘mahalle’ falling in love. And a secret between them that provides the necessary conflict. It delivers on its promise without much fuss.
There, of course, needs to be something a little different too, to snag and keep our interest. And in Ateşböceği, it’s the leads themselves.
Baris Buka – Not The Typical Tortured, Toxic Male Dizi Lead In Need Of Redemption
Baris Buka (Seçkin Özdemir) is a 35-year old rich, successful divorce lawyer. In his own words, he’s a bit jaded about love and marriage and life, having seen the worst of it all in his line of work. But he still isn’t cynical about love, nor is he the stereotypical greedy divorce lawyer, who only wants to make a fortune out of his clients’ failed love lives. We see him refuse cases where he senses the couple has hope, steering them towards counselling. He has a strong moral compass and is sensitive and kind. Baris loves his two aunts who essentially raised him, and his pampered, dim-witted cousin Hakan, who becomes the source of all his troubles. He does have an unhappy story in his parents, but it has not made him bitter or hard-hearted. We never see him say he doesn’t believe in love, neither in relation to his clients nor his family nor for himself. He’s not a stone-hearted hero waiting to be taught about love and rescued from a life of unhappiness by the sweet heroine. He’s just bored with his life – and of course has no idea that disaster and love are both about to hit him at the same time.
Asli Egilmez – Not The Typical Damsel In Distress
A taxi-driver as a female lead – now that’s definitely something ‘different’! Asli Egilmez (Nilay Deniz) is the eponymous ‘Ateşböceği’ – a bright young woman who gave up on her dream of becoming an attorney to become a taxi-driver and the bread-winner for her family after her father’s death. She is the youngest in the family. Her older brother Metin is reduced to a shell of his former self after losing his wife and an even bigger blow of an accident that crippled his sweet young daughter, Çiçek. Her sister Arzu is lovable but all she’s interested in is marrying the mahalle romeo, Barbo, who has already been vetoed by her family for being jobless. Her mother despairs of ever seeing Asli dressed and behaving like a ‘girl’ and keeps pushing her to get a desk job. They are a close-knit loving family. Everyone is aware of the sacrifices that Asli has had to make to fend for them all, but find themselves directionless and unable to help themselves out of their situation. Asli actually has more issues that is preventing her from trying to change her own circumstances – she doesn’t want to get back to university because of these issues and is happy driving taxis, talking car engines and mechanics and being ‘one of the boys’, much to her mother’s dismay.
Love and Lies
With this backdrop, we are straight-up dropped into the mess that will bring Baris and Asli together, and will also be the reason to keep them apart. Baris has got on the wrong side of a mafia-type by helping his abused wife divorce him. The mafia-type has got his hands on a video that implicates Baris in a hit-and-run and starts blackmailing him and his family. The unique, vintage car involved in the accident belongs to Baris but was actually being driven by the doped-out cousin Hakan, who doesn’t remember anything that happened that night!
There ensues a series of hilarious events where the family tries to get Hakan to remember what happened that night, but to no avail. They are sure that Hakan wasn’t the one driving the car – it was being driven by someone else. And Baris and Teo (Baris’ chauffeur-friend-confidante-advisor who wants to step up to the role of ‘investigator’) start their own investigation into the identity of the little girl who was hit. And hold your hats, it turns out this is the accident that has crippled little Çiçek – Asli’s niece!
Baris and Teo’s investigations lead them to Asli. Baris sees Asli and promptly falls for her, but he’s obviously unable to do anything about it. More so when he finds out that Asli has been trying to run her own investigation into the accident to find the car that hit Çiçek. She’s smart and tenacious, and has already made good headway towards identifying the car. To keep her close and to make sure she doesn’t get anywhere with her snooping, Teo suggests Baris give her the job of his chauffeur and offer to take over the investigation. Baris reluctantly agrees. And Asli accepts the job with the understanding that Baris will help her find the one responsible for the accident and bring him/her to justice.
The rest of the story is about how Baris tries to keep the truth from Asli until he can prove that Hakan is innocent, while falling deeper in love with Asli. She’s Ateşböceği – shimmering and sparkling and lit by an inner fire and spirit that brings excitement into his life. Asli falls equally hard for Baris, believing him to be a good, honest person (which he really is, but for this one secret).
Baris agonizes over the secret he’s keeping from Asli and tries to keep his distance from her, but is ultimately unable to do so. Asli blooms under his love, and is even convinced by Baris to go back to university to complete her studies and follow her dream.
We also have Teo and Gul, Asli’s best friend, falling in love – with the same secret between them!
Baris knows he needs to tell Asli the truth, but, as Oscar Wilde said, ““The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” So Baris, in his fear of losing Asli, keeps putting off the inevitable and digging himself into a deeper hole. This, coupled with a snake in their Garden of Eden in the form of Baris’ ex and new partner Ilayda, and a scheming aunt – all serve to keep the love story hanging by a thread. What I did like was how the story moves forward when this thread snaps.
Ateşböceği offers a good balance of romance, angst, humor and drama. The chemistry between Baris and Asli is great, and the supporting characters also have enough meat in their roles to make the story interesting.
The roles of Teo and Gul especially, as Baris and Asli’s friends respectively, are written and executed very well. Baris has rescued Teo, an orphan, from a life of crime presumably and earned his everlasting loyalty. Despite the obvious differences in their circumstances, theirs is a bond of equals. A beautiful friendship. Asli has a similar beautiful and close friendship with her childhood friend Gul.
Hakan, the simple-minded but good-hearted mama’s boy, who grows into someone who is willing to own responsibility for his actions is funny and lovable. And Çiçek, the little girl, is a delight, showing us adults the resilience and immense capacity for unconditional love that children have. Her cheerfulness in her misfortune helps keep her family from descending into despair over her situation. Speak about a child’s power!
Romcoms are never easy to write. In any romance, the first heady experience of falling in love is what keeps the audience hooked to the story. Once the leads get together and maybe get through one breakup and makeup, how do you keep the interest in the story going? It takes a lot of talent to keep writing new plots, and writers usually take the easy way out by stretching out a conflict seemingly endlessly. In case of Ateşböceği as well, they keep holding out on Baris confessing to Asli to draw out the drama, in addition to the never-ending shenanigans of the evil ex, Ilayda. But they did read the writing on the wall, and decided to end the story at 17 episodes. They do a pretty good job of tying up all threads and giving a sweet and satisfying closure to Baris and Asli. This supports my personal belief that romcoms should never be beyond 15-20 episodes, unless the writers have something really big written up!
The writing, directing and editing in this series have all been good and consistent. The director of the series Baris Yös has some impressive shows to his credit – Kiralik Ask, Vuslat, Adini Feriha Koydum. His experience and range are obvious in the way he has drawn out good performances from everyone in the cast.
Ateşböceği ultimately is a lovely little treat which you can savor easily and remember fondly.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Bharthi S./ @LinesBlrd , twitter
All video clips and photos belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. Please ask for permission before reprints. Please provide proper citations if referencing information in this article. Sources are linked in the article.